I’m not a bad cook. In fact, I’d venture to say I’m a pretty good cook. My mom made dinner every night when I was growing up and I’ve learned a lot from my brother and husband, who are both formally-trained chefs. It’s just that I don’t enjoy cooking. Honestly, I’d rather clean the bathroom than cook. It’s just not my thing.
Over the last year or so, I’ve finally come around to the idea that it’s just part of the job these days. While I’m in the process of starting a business, I’m not currently working full time and my husband’s job is very demanding. Ultimately, I am anchoring the family, which means dinner is my responsibility. The girls eat at 6pm, just before their bath and are in bed by 7pm each night, so I always cook their meals. Luckily, they’re good eaters, so they typically eat some variation of what we eat. Jeremiah typically gets home around 9pm, so dinner needs to be ready for us to eat when he walks in (it’s already too late, as far as I’m concerned). When my restaurant opens in a few months, we’ll have hired help here at night, so dinnertime will be altogether different then.
My eating habits differ greatly from my husbands. I’m a snacker. I’d eat crackers and cheese, popcorn, handfuls of nuts, and cereal for every meal if I had things my way. Jeremiah eats meals. He only eats meals. His snacks are what most would consider a full-size meal. Seriously, the man can put down food like you wouldn’t believe. While I could subsist on snacks, I know that it’s better for my family to eat normal, fresh, well-portioned meals, so I cook.
We grow a few of our own veggies. Our pepper plant is on crack and produces loads of peppers year-round, so we always have fresh peppers for my favorite homemade condiment banana-pepper salsa. We also have kale and various other greens that produce at least 6 months of the year, along with tomatoes and summer squash. In addition to our small urban garden, we also get a CSA from a local farmer, so we receive a box of fresh veggies every week throughout the year. The CSA isn’t available all quarters, but it’s available most quarters, so we eat a lot of fresh veggies.
I’ve also learned that if I don’t have leftovers or a prepared salad in the fridge, I will not eat lunch. So, meal prep includes prepared lunch salads with protein. I typically bake a big tray of chicken breast at the beginning of the week and store half in the fridge and half in the freezer. Then I can just add it to salads or to the girls lunch for an quick and easy lunchtime meal.
Since I’m quite the reluctant cook, I’ve learned a few tricks to get the job done fast. It’s not entirely painless, but it’s pretty effortless.
- Meal prep is crucial – Every weekend when we receive our CSA, I prep all the veggies. Protein with some type of mixed veggie in a stir fry or saute is my go-to, so I fill quarts with chopped veggies (these are our favorite quart storage containers) that I can easily throw in a pan with protein for a 15-minute meal
- Label and date stored veggies – Our meal prep containers are stored in the same area of the fridge as our leftovers, so it’s important to mark meal prep jars, so they aren’t mistaken for leftovers. Jeremiah takes leftovers or prepared salads for lunch. Most of my veggie mixtures can be thrown in a pan and sauteed, but every once in a while I cut jars for a specific meal, like a soup, something new I’m planning to try (which is rare) or a goulash or ratatouille, so I make sure to mark these on the label
- Brine your meat – Most meat will benefit from even a 30-minute brine, so even if you’re short on time, it’s a helpful step
- Use EVERYTHING – This is a trick I’ve learned from my husband. Any veggie scraps and bones should be kept for use in stocks. You’d be surprised what can be salvaged for additional meals and typically all that stuff you tend to throw away is the most nutritious part of the food. I’ve eaten salad dressing made from veggie scraps (pulverized with olive oil in a food processor) more times than I could count
- Freeze stock – Because we use the pressure cooker for a lot of our meals, we always have stock, but we also make stock on the stovetop. Once we get a big bag of scraps stored up, we just throw it on the stovetop and cook it down. Homemade stock is a great foundation or starter for meals and Jeremiah will drink stock for a snack, in place of a protein shake. Bonus points that it can easily be stored in the freezer.
Our pressure cooker is my best friend (we use this one). It’s seriously the best tool for the reluctant cook, but I think it’s probably the best tool for a busy mom and family too. Any device that cooks a whole chicken to juicy and tender in 20 minutes is a gem in my book. Plus, it makes great stock, and stock is like gold in my house.
Jeremiah is a chef, enjoys to cook, and is really good at it, so when he’s home early or off (he has one day off a week) he does the cooking. He tends to do much more elaborate things, which is a nice break from my more structured meals. As a rule, we eat very clean, but he is decidedly more healthy than I am. Before we met, he was a Crossfit-preaching, paleo-eating man and that message still runs through his meals.
What’s your strategy for easy weekday meals? Any tips for the reluctant cook? We’ve been thinking of adding Blue Apron or another prepared-meal company to our strategy (Jeremiah isn’t convinced). Any happy users out there?